Wednesday, February 9, 2011

No games or 18?

With the Super Bowl over, attention turns to the ongoing labour spat that may put a stop to the 2011 NFL season. I'm not going to go into detail on the issues or what I think about the whole thing (surely they can find a way to share $9 billion!), but rather just talk about the 18-game season that has been proposed.

Most players are against the increase in games, and it's not hard to see why. There will be more injuries and careers will be shorter - 144 games currently takes 9 seasons (with 9 years of pay) compared to only 8 with the longer schedule. Essentially players are taking a pay reduction of 11% over their career to play the same number of games. There should be an increase in TV, gate, and ancillary revenues, but the question is how much of that would accrue to the players and whether existing contracts would be adjusted. A key talking point no doubt.

Several writers and the NFL players union have mentioned another bye week and increased rosters as ways to reduce injuries, and those are ideas that will need to be explored. I suspect we'd see bigger practice squads but the 45-man game day roster would remain unchanged. As for the additional week off, it would mean a 20-week season and the playoffs starting in mid-January, with a Super Bowl near the end of February.

Initially I was opposed to the longer schedule, but I've become more accepting after thinking about it, purely as a selfish fan. First, February is the worst sports month. With college football pushing into mid-January, I can see having the NFL playoffs starting on the Sunday after the BCS championship and going to the President's Day weekend. Only the Daytona 500 would be affected by that, but perhaps they could combine those events into one massive sports viewing day.

The other positive for a longer schedule is naturally the NFL road trip. It's my sole remaining road trip dream and it would be much easier to complete in 20 weeks than 17. That would mean 12 weeks of two games and 8 with just one, instead of 15 and 2. If you want specifics, I like the suggestion put forth by Paul Kasabian of Bleacher Report, who recommends playing two divisions in your conference per season and having 8 bye weeks during the year, each with 8 teams resting.

Still, there will be a decrease in the quality of football. With more injuries and more players on reserve, end of season games could be decided by third-stringers who are currently playing arena football. As well, historical season records will no longer be meaningful and the symmetry (4 weeks of 4 games) of the NFL schedule will be lost.

It's not an easy decision, but I expect 18 games will prevail. NFL players don't have long careers and can't afford to sacrifice an entire season for their eventual replacements. I think the owners have them over a barrel and will try to splinter the union, eventually succeeding but not without losing a few games in 2011.

The final result will be a 20-week schedule with two bye weeks starting in 2012, and the resulting increase in revenues should keep everybody happy. Except the fans, who will end up paying more than ever to follow the game they love.



1 comment:

  1. Sean,

    I like your proposal and argument for the future of the NFL. I agree with you in the end that 18 games will eventually happen. It's all about the money. Football is too popular to shoot itself in the foot. They may miss some games next season as they try to arrive at a happy medium. The players need to be better compensated. For example, in the Super Bowl both teams lost key players during the biggest game of the season. Hopefully they'll figure out a system that works out for everybody including the fans.